Tennessee State Representative Andy Holt (R) has introduced an amendment to HB 1191 that would make it a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a $10,000 fine to videotape animal cruelty and not hand it over to the authorities within 48 hours. This legislation sounds as if it’s designed to prevent profiting from or celebrating cruel dog- or cock-fighting.
But Holt, a pig farmer, has identified the real goal of the bill — making it easier to abuse animals.
At a hearing he said, “radical animal activist groups” have spent months taking videos of alleged animal abuse, likely referencing a case in 2012 when the Humane Society released footage of a trainer abusing a horse.
“I think this is something that we need to be doing, not only to protect our animal industries here in the state against these animal activists that have caused great economic harm to some, but also to protect the animals themselves. That is the ultimate intention of this bill,” Holt said.
So he wants to protect animals?
“Baloney,” writes the editorial board of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “Its transparent purpose is to prevent animal-rights advocates from quietly accumulating sufficient documentation to show a court that animal cruelty is wrongly and deliberately used in some slaughterhouses and animal training facilities.”
The editorial goes on to describe how a reporter from the Times Free Press documented the process of “regularly soring” Tennessee Walking horses—soring involves “chemicals, chains around the front hooves, and screws pressed into the top of the thick shoe pads that are strapped and chained to the horses’ front feet”—to compel the animal to perform a high-stepping movement called “the big lick.” Documenting this cruelty requires a case to be built over weeks.
So where did Holt get the idea — nay! — the exact language for his bill?
The Times Free Press blames the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the right-wing organization behind the carbon-copied, NRA-approved “Stand Your Ground” laws. The Koch brothers-supported group’s fingerprints were all over the anti-union legislation that was rammed through Michigan’s legislature at the end of 2012 in the form of language that was literally cut and pasted from one of their model bills.
“Of all the Kochs’ investments in right-wing organizations, ALEC provides some of the best returns: It gives the Kochs a way to make their brand of free-market fundamentalism legally binding,” The Nation‘s Lisa Graves reported in 2011.
If you paste a sentence from Holt’s bill into a search engine, you’ll find identical wording was submitted in a bill before New Hampshire’s state legislature earlier this year. So called “Ag-Gag” bills have also been considered in Arkansas, Nebraska and Wyoming.
And it isn’t just the horse-training industry interested in making it difficult to film animal cruelty, of course.
The meat and poultry industries are also pursuing so-called “Freedom to Farm” bills via ALEC after videos that reportedly showed cows being suffocated and calves being skinned alive were released.
ALEC’s effect on the political process at the state level is pervasive, as the Times Free Press notes in its editorial:
As in most of the nation’s GOP-controlled legislatures nowadays, most of the Tennessee Legislature’s business-friendly giveaways, cash incentives for development, partisan and anti-worker reforms of worker compensation and insurance laws, and school voucher and charter school legislation, is concocted or driven by ALEC’s deeply partisan, pro-business backers.
The 2010 election put more Republicans in office than at any time before the stock market crash of 2009, allowing the GOP to redraw safer districts in red states and majorities that will likely last until 2022 in purple states. This means the right feels even more emboldened to introduce industry-written boilerplate laws that mock the idea of states’ rights all over the country.
Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean — who created the 50-state strategy that helped elect President Obama in 2008 with big majorities in the House and Senate — has launched a movement to target state legislatures in purple states to try to put a stop to Republican legislatures in states President Obama won twice from governing as if they are Mississippi. His trial run will be in Virginia this year.
But Republican state legislatures seem not to mind exposing themselves by turning in ALEC’s homework all over the country and calling it their own. Perhaps when the bills they propose enable the torture of animals, even conservatives — who are often immune to cruelty to the poor — will start to take a look at the nefarious forces that are shaping this country’s laws to conform to the sick wishes of a right-wing cabal intent on empowering corporations at the expense of our nation’s humanity.